The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

quite convinced

with 7 comments

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recent financial setbacks and personal problems infect your humble narrator with a form of deep melancholy and a vast ennui. When such moments come upon me, there is a certain pizzeria in Greenpoint (Norman corner of Manhattan, near the train) whose offerings can be summed up best as: an actual and old fashioned “Brooklyn Slice”. On the day I spied this collection of rail cars at the so called “Bliss Tower” in DUGABO, I had scuttled forth from the rolling hillocks of my beloved Astoria in pursuit of one of these aforementioned slices, in an effort designed to brighten my mood.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Errors and omissions mar my record when discussing the Rails, much to the chagrin of the knowledgable railfan community (whose helpful comments and corrections are always appreciated here at Newtown Pentacle). As such, what I can categorically tell you is that this a New York & Atlantic Locomotive, one of the 11 engine units which service the 269 miles of track operated upon by the Glendale based company in Brooklyn, Queens, and both Nassau and Suffolk counties. It shares much of its road with the passenger based Long Island Railroad, and NY&A’s distinctive emerald, white, and black engines are regularly observed around the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Across the Newtown Creek Watershed, one encounters a landscape built for rail. Long abandoned track beds lie buried in inches of road asphalt, pointing the way to industrial giants long absent. Train stops orphaned from their purpose, spars and switches which were rudely severed to make room for modernity. All of it operated at street grade, and the remnants of the iron road are often the only tangible remains of great concerns and financial largesse. If you follow the right spar, you’ll discover that the NYPD Barricades unit was once Thypin Steel, or that LaGuardia Community College was once the Loose Wiles bakery and part of the Degnon Terminal.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Within the communities which surround the Newtown Creek, a complaint often repeated concerns the presence of large numbers of trucks utilizing local streets in their quest to move goods from A to B. I had the privilege last year of attending a presentation by certain factions within the Port Authority that described a proposal which would eliminate several thousand truck trips a day throughout the City and over the George Washington Bridge, simply by shipping New York City’s garbage out to land fill utilizing locomotive rather than automotive means. Calculations about air pollution, road maintenance costs, and vehicular accident rates were presented at the time which compared rail quite favorably with truck based shipping.There was a maritime component to the plan as well, which was a bit hazy, but the train concept was spun gold.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above represents an NY&A Locomotive making a drop off of a customer in Maspeth near the ill fated St. Saviour’s church site, where they will uncouple a car or two for the unloading or loading of certain cargo. An unthinkable amount of trucks would be required to carry the same tonnage. The subject of Green Technology and “Greening New York” is often bandied about by many these days. Too much of the conversation, however, is “cocktail party environmentalism”- which sounds great but just isn’t practical on a policy level.

I’ve developed this funny notion, however, that the way forward is actually to re-imagine and re-invent the heaviest industry of them all.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Rail infrastructure is what made Long Island City the factory of not just New York, but the entire world at the turn of the last century and multiple generations of capitalists and real estate interests founded vast fortunes because of the initial investment in it. Newtown Creek was the busiest waterway in North America, carrying more ship and barge traffic than the entire Mississippi for a time, and all of that maritime activity was fed by rail. Intermodal rail floats actually carried whole trains across the harbor to Manhattan, Staten Island, New Jersey and beyond. Imagine the benefits, in both individual wealth and environmental health, were we to try and save the future by looking for solutions in the past.

I’m still kind of forming this idea up for myself, but the key to it is containerization. More on this soon.

What do you, lords and ladies, think on the subject? Use the comments “Reply box” below, if you would like to start a conversation about it.

7 Responses

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  1. *I* think you neglected to mention the most important detail: what topping you had on your “Brooklyn Slice”.


    September 16, 2011 at 6:33 am

    • Thanks.

      The Long Island paper Newsday has run a couple of articles recently on the government subsidized efforts by Metro Oil to link it’s new Greenpoint bio-fuel processing facility by rail with it’s new distribution terminal out east in Calverton (Suffolk County).

      I’d be in interested in some man on the pavement/train track reporting/research on this. The Metro Oil facility is east across Kingsland Ave from the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant’s digester eggs.

      I assume there has to be some rehab of the train tracks at the Metro OIl/Greenpoint end for the future shipments.


      September 16, 2011 at 11:27 am

  2. I very much enjoyed the the little bits of Joseph Mitchell-style humility incorporated in the writing.

    Andre Friedmann

    September 19, 2011 at 7:56 am

  3. […] Long Island Railroad terminal at Hunters Point is and was on Borden Avenue, and rail tracks run parallel to Borden Avenue’s path, along what would have once been known as Creek Street. […]

  4. “cocktail party environmentalism”- which sounds great but just isn’t practical on a policy level. < I agree with this. I love this blog by the way. – Henry


    November 8, 2011 at 3:24 am

  5. […] which was somewhat remarkable. When I do see trains along this route, 9 times out of 10 they are NY & Atlantic freight trains which lumber along at a fairly tepid pace compared to this blue and gold comet which […]

  6. […] in a nameless section of Queens, once known as Blissville but which I describe as DUGABO, it was a NY and Atlantic freight operation which was raising the […]

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